Today is the last Sunday of Advent and time for one more carol special to the season of anticipation and hope. Today’s song is one of the oldest in the English Protestant tradition. It was one of literally thousands of hymn lyrics written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), the brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. The prolific hymnist almost single handedly established the tradition of congregational singing among Methodists and by osmosis much of the rest of English language Protestantism.
In 1744 Wesley considered the Old Testament Book of Haggai, chapter 2: verse 7 and compared it to the desperate situation of orphans around him and the class divide in England. Come, Thou long expected Jesus published as a prayer at the time with the words:
Born Your people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now Your gracious kingdom bring.
By Your own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by Your all sufficient merit,
raise us to Your glorious throne.
Wesley adapted his prayer into a hymn published it in his Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord and wrote it with an eye toward preparing for the Second Coming of Christ.
Welshman /Roland Hugh Prichard wrote the tune now frequently used for Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus has been set to a number of tunes. It is not known which melody Wesley originally intended for the hymn, which is why it was excluded from the Methodist Weslyan Hymn Book, until the 1875 Edition. There is some evidence that the first tune it was set to was Stuttgart by Christian Friedrich Witt written in 1716. Later Hyfrydol, a Welsh tune written in the 1800s by Rowland Hugh Prichard, was frequently used. In the United Kingdom, it is now often set to the 4-line tune Cross of Jesus, by John Stainer, part of longer his work The Crucifixion.
Unitarian Universalists will recognize Prichard’s tune as the melody for My Blue Boat Home, the signature song of UU bard Peter Mayer.
Today’s selection by the Christian/folk ensemble Red Mountain uses the Prichard melody.